BOYD, JOHN, teacher, publisher, and pharmacist; b. at South River, Sydney County, N.S., to John Boyd and Mary MacDonald in 1823; m. Ann MacDonald and had one son and three daughters; d. in Boston, Mass., on 28 Dec. 1880.
John Boyd, who apparently had little formal education, became a school-teacher in Pictou County in 1848. He prepared a Gaelic-English speller to which he added a short history of the “45” in Gaelic. This history was also printed by the Pictou Eastern Chronicle. Returning to Sydney County in 1849, he designed a primitive press which was built by Angus MacGillivray, a local carpenter. In 1850 he taught school at Broad Cove, at the same time continuing his interest in printing. In January 1851 he began a journal, An Cuairtear og Gaelach, which contained material that was mostly copied from Tormad MacLeod’s Cuairtear, published in Scotland.
In June 1852 Boyd began the Antigonish Casket, a small Catholic newspaper, which appeared weekly. Two of its four pages had material written in Gaelic. The use of Gaelic was probably due less to a sense of ethnic pride than to the fact that many of the potential readers were Highland Scots. The Gaelic content was gradually reduced and by 1857 it had virtually disappeared from the paper. When he began his paper, readers “like the visit of angels,” were few and far between. To keep the paper alive, Boyd turned to job printing, opened the first Catholic book-store east of Halifax, and, although he had no training, also operated a pharmacy. The lack of proper communication and transportation facilities posed a continuous difficulty in bringing in supplies for his enterprises and in obtaining information for the paper. In July 1852 a telegraph office was opened in Antigonish, but this was expensive, and a twice-weekly coach service, begun in 1841, was unreliable. To develop circulation for his paper on Cape Breton Island, which was particularly deficient in communication facilities, Boyd sent out agents who toured the island selling books, pills, and the Casket. By 1858 the paper was sold by four agents in the peninsula, 13 on Cape Breton, and three in Prince Edward Island. No figures on actual sales have survived but circulation never matched his expectations.
In content the Casket brought its readers a wide mixture of current events, theology, poetry, and literature, much of it written especially for the paper. Its editorials, principally by Dr William Currie, supported the Liberal party and unsuccessfully favoured such local reforms as the adoption of municipal institutions. The growing quarrel between the Catholics, particularly the Irish, and the Liberal government posed a difficult problem for the Casket. The paper, either because of devotion to reform principles or because of a lack of affinity with the Irish of Halifax, tried to continue supporting the Liberal government of William Young* despite Joseph Howe’s attacks on the Catholics. Its tactics merely brought a series of bitter attacks from the Halifax Catholic. Boyd capitulated and the Casket gradually became a staunch supporter of the Conservative party.
Boyd was always ambitious to play a prominent part in the colony’s affairs and, in January 1861, moved his newspaper office to Halifax. This venture failed and Boyd returned to Antigonish; in July 1861 he sold the Casket to his half-brother, Angus Boyd, and devoted himself to his book- and drug-store. In September 1862, after suffering further business reverses, he moved to Boston. Angus Boyd later stated that John Boyd was “the author of several ingenious inventions” and he may have been the John Boyd who had an American patent on a combination cane-umbrella. But Boyd, through his optimism and vision, had undoubtedly helped to build a newspaper which served its readers well.
Casket (Antigonish, N.S.), 1852–61 (broken run), 1943. D. J. Rankin, A history of the county of Antigonish, Nova Scotia (Toronto, 1929). D. G. Whidden, The history of the town of Antigonish (Wolfville, N.S., 1934), 113–15. D. M. Sinclair, “Gaelic newspapers and prose writings in Nova Scotia,” N.S. Hist. Soc. Coll., XXVI (1945), 105–14.